As James is being attacked from all sides (most especially in his own comboxes) for ridiculing the phrase “citizen of the world” as nonsense, I have to say a few more things beyond what I have already said.  The least compelling arguments advanced against James’ view are that former Presidents have used this same phrase.  Well, yes, former Presidents have used vapid phrases many times, so I suppose you could say that Obama gave a good audition for his prospective position, but what can it mean to say that one is a citizen of the world?  The most compelling argument I have seen is…well, actually, there isn’t any particularly compelling argument in support of this phrase.  That phrase implies that all “citizens” of the world have obligations of one kind or another to the rest of the non-existent world-polity, even though “citizens of the world” do not share in the same political life. 

It has become a conventional line that presumably well-meaning people say, but it has no substance, not least because it was coined by a man for whom all forms of loyalty were arbitrary and irrational*.  While its modern usage often suggests an affinity for or loyalty to other places besides or even in addition to one’s own community, the word came into being to define the repudiation of political and social bonds.  To trace kosmopolitis back to its origins is to trace it to those who believed all forms of social and political obligation to be worthless, which is often the opposite of what people who fancy themselves “cosmopolitan” actually support.  In fact, the broad and universal sort of character that acknowledges and respects the diversity of the world that people think has something to do with cosmopolitanism is more appropriately defined by such words as ecumenical or catholic.  Strangely, though perhaps not so surprisingly, those who identify with some form of cosmopolitanism tend to be the same people who would like to see the world’s political and cultural diversity reduced to a monoculture of managed democratic capitalism, which confirms that there is something essentially intolerant and destructive of established cultures and traditions in the cosmopolitan view.  The phrase is meaningless, but the idea that the phrase hints at is quite undesirable. 

*This is not a total rejection of Cynicism, which bears some intriguing similarities to modern philosophical pessimism and Christian asceticism.